Turkey should avoid anti-refugee language
Unfortunately, Turkey’s problem in handling millions of refugees on its soil has reached a new alarming level. The past 10 days have shown how different political approaches and rhetoric over refugees were reflected most negatively first on social media and then on the streets.
Let’s put things into chronological order: The ongoing discussion over the refugees was triggered following Turkey’s acceptance of keeping Turkish troops in Afghanistan as a result of the summit between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Joe Biden in mid-June.
Since then, the opposition has been harshly slamming the government for throwing Turkish soldiers into danger and alone against the Taliban, and for triggering a new refugee influx from Afghanistan to Turkey.
At the same time, some footage featuring Afghan nationals illegally entering Turkey in mass numbers have been circulating on social media even though the government has denied the authenticity of these videos.
All these discussions have created a snowball effect in the country, which is trying to shoulder the burden of nearly four million Syrian refugees while struggling with the disruptive impacts of the pandemic and the disasters on the economy. A plan announced by the U.S. on the resettlement of Afghan nationals that allegedly addresses Turkey as one of the target countries has further escalated the discussion. Turkey officially protested the move, stressing that it won’t serve as a refugee camp for other countries.
On the domestic political front, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu vowed to send all Syrians back to their home once they come to power after securing the conditions for them in their country. Tanju Özcan, the mayor of the northwestern province of Bolu, proposed to the province’s municipal assembly a motion to charge a tenfold fee for the water bills and solid waste taxes of foreigners.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli slammed Syrians who went to their country for the celebrations of Eid al-Adha and told them not to return. He also urged against a new influx from Afghanistan, informing that Turkey is already hosting around half a million Afghans.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to the criticism of Kılıçdaroğlu by saying that they will never abandon people fleeing violence as it is a conscious duty of a strong country like Turkey. He also said Turkey was successfully financing the stay of the refugees while assuring that all precautions were being taken to stop the illegal entrance of the refugees through its borders with Iran and Iraq.
In the middle of this quarrel between the politicians came the sad news that a Syrian national has stabbed to death an 18-year-old Turkish man and wounded another in the Turkish capital on Aug. 10. The Syrians could have successfully developed a social and economic structure in the two neighborhoods of Altındağ district of Ankara over the years. There were minor incidents in the past between the two communities but none of them was at that scale.
Angry locals have damaged the workplaces and shops of Syrians and burned their vehicles in protests on the night of Aug. 12 and 13. Some Syrians have already been evacuated from the district while some families are seeking to leave Ankara to find a new place to live.
Recent events have shown us that the refugee issue should be handled much more carefully by politicians, especially before the next elections. Losing common sense and wisdom can lead to much larger social problems. Turkey is the world’s largest refugee-hosting country and that won’t change in the near future. The government and the opposition should better develop new long-term strategies to handle this situation and avoid inflammatory narratives and fresh confrontations between Turkish citizens and refugee communities.